Archive for August, 2010

Announcement: Professional Research in Hong Kong

CMT Hello

Welcome to my professional research pages.

My name is Christine Thomas and I am a professional researcher covering Hong Kong and China

If you would like to discuss your research and/or need any assistance, please use the Contact Us Tab at the top of this page.

Career

I have spent a forty year career with the Police in Hong Kong and London working in the fields of Research and Archival Records Management. I now run my own Research Service specialising in families who had British ancestors in Hong Kong, China and/or the Police. I am a member of AGRA.

Biography

I travelled to Hong Kong in 1975 and spent twenty magical years in the former British  Colony. During that time my weekends were spent recording Memorial Inscriptions in the Hong Kong Cemetery. These date back to the 1840s and provide a wonderful insight into the history of the Colony. I am now supplementing this information with British burials in China.

When I returned to the UK I worked in the Archive Department of the Metropolitan Police where I gained an in-depth knowledge of the Met’s archival records.

Nothing gives me more pleasure than researching a family from the Far East

Specialisation

Burials in Hong Kong, China, Macau and Japan

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Hong Kong Birth, Marriage & Death Certificates

I am often asked whether it is possible to obtain birth, marriage and death certificates from Hong Kong – the answer is YES, but you have to be prepared to pay a hefty price and you will need to be extremely patient.   I am sure that many of you will have been annoyed earlier this year when our own GRO increased the price of certificates.  Well, I have to say that the price we pay here is very reasonable when compared to Hong Kong.  First I will give you a bit of background.

As we all know the key to finding a birth, marriage or death certificate from 1837 is to search the indexes.  For those of us in the London area this used to be done at the Family Records Centre (previously at St. Catherine’s House – and even earlier at Somerset House).  Although it was extremely heavy work lumping those huge volumes back & forth I have to admit that I did get a wonderful feeling of satisfaction when I eventually found the entry I was looking for.  These days the indexes are all available online and the search process is very much easier and quicker.  The main point here is that the Indexes ARE made public for us to search – not so in Hong Kong. 

The indexes do exist but unfortunately you will need to pay for a search and, if the entry is found, you will then need to pay for a certified copy of the certificate.   You will find a link to the HK Government web page on the subject listed to the right under Genealogical Repositories.  This details the types of search which can be made, together with costs of both search and certified copies.  If you know the date of the birth or death then the overall cost will be somewhere in the region of £25.  For a search of the marriage registers and a certified copy of the certificate the cost will approximately £36.  You will then need to enter into correspondence with the Immigration Department on how to get the certificate to you because their system is set up for the “personal collection” only.  It IS possible to have it posted to you but this is not within the automated online system.  You will need to be prepared for a wait of up to 3 months for your certificate to arrive.

Another factor which has to be taken into consideration is that there are large gaps in the records – especially for the period just prior to the Japanese Occupation. 

Good luck with your research.

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The Colonial Cemetery in Happy Valley, Hong Kong was opened in January 1845 following the closure of the Old Protestant Burial Ground at St. Francis’ Yard, Wanchai.

Hong Kong burial registers do not appear to have been kept until 1853 when the St. Johns register was started.  The first entry on 2nd. January 1853 is numbered 800 with the second entry being 807 on 13th. January.  Thenceforth, all burials were recorded whether or not they were performed by the Chaplain of St. Johns.  On 29th. October 1855 Frederick Makee was buried and the service conducted by a Russian officer who was a prisoner of war.  A year later a seaman was charged and fined forty shillings for conducting an unauthorised burial service.  On 18th. January 1857 a Malayan seaman from the Brig “Tempo” was buried without the knowledge of either clergyman or sexton.

The St. John’s burial register continued to be the only record of burials until the 1880s, following which the task of recording was taken over by the Sanitary Board.

Over the years the monuments in the Old Protestant Burial Ground in Wanchai were vandalised or used in surrounding buildings.  In 1889 a decision was taken to remove all the remaining monuments and place them together within the Colonial Cemetery.  Some 48 monuments were saved.

The Great Storm of July 1889 wreaked havoc on the Colony and the Surveyor General reported: 

On the morning of 29th. I was at the Peak, and such was the violence of the storm that (with some others who were staying at the Hotel) I had to wait a considerable time before the chair coolies would venture on the descent, owing to the force of the wind and rain.  However, we started about 9am.  I shall not readily forget the journey down.  I followed the road as, all things considered, it appeared to me a preferable route to the tramway.  Along the upper levels the gusts of wind threatened to carry us off the mountain path.  During the descent the water rushed in sheets down the steep mountain slopes, the nullahs were full, and the side drains and culverts of the road overflowing.  I arrived at the Government offices about 10 o’clock. ………….. Then began the most appalling thunderstorm within my own experience, or that, I venture to believe, of the majority of the residents in the Colony.  For hours flash succeeded flash in rapid succession, and the roll of the thunder was almost uninterrupted, while the rain descended n masses.  Several buildings were struck by lightning and six coolies were killed in a matshed at the Peak.   ……………..  The storm raged with greatest intensity between the hours of 1 and 5 am of the 30th

He continued:

Although more or less damage occurred in almost every street and road in the Colony the chief scenes of disaster were …………………….. 3) the heavy landslips which having their origin in the steep slopes above the Tytam Aqueduct, swept down the mountain side, carrying away the masonry of the Aqueduct itself in three places.  In the case of the heaviest of these slips, the torrent carried the debris straight through the Public Cemetery and landed the greater part on the race course in Happy Valley below. ……………………..  Mr. Cooper estimates that during the storm at least 30,000 cubic yards of earth were carried by these landslips across the line of the aqueduct.  This included besides earth, a large proportion of huge granite boulders, dislodged from the mountain sides, some of them many tons in weight.  After crossing the aqueduct the course of the principal landslips followed the ravines which traverse the Public Cemetery in the Happy Valley.  The bridges and part of the boundary wall were destroyed, the bed of the nullah was choked and about 5,000 cubic yards of sand were carried through the Cemetery and deposited on the Race Course below, but fortunately not a single grave was in any way injured or disturbed.

In 1894 another violent typhoon hit the Colony but this time 20 monuments were damaged.  In 1908 the Cemetery Chapel, Sexton’s quarters and Green House were damaged and in 1927 many gravestones had to be repaired after a vast amount of debris and silt cascaded down the mountainside.   The cemetery survived – it might be said – “through hell and high water”. 

The cemetery was fast filling up and by the 1960s little room was left.  In 1961 over a hundred graves were exhumed, followed in 1970 by a further 460.  But it was the mid 1970s that proved to be the most disquieting time for those laid to rest in the Hong Kong Cemetery.  The construction of the Aberdeen Tunnel and associated approach roads meant that large chunks of the cemetery were to be lost.  920 civilian graves with monuments were moved to other locations in the cemetery, along with 262 graves relating to military personnel.  A staggering 2,285 graves which had no monuments were to be exhumed and the remains placed in an ossuary which was to be built within the cemetery.

Fortunately my database of burials for the Hong Kong Cemetery, Happy Valley includes details of most of these exhumations and repositionings – so “the dear departed” can still be found.  If you would like me to check my Index of Hong Kong Burials & Inscriptions then please use the “Contact Us” tab at the top of this page. 

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Hong Kong Police Research

When Captain William Caine of HM 26th. Regiment of Infantry was appointed Hong Kong’s Chief Magistrate in 1841 the colony was a dangerous and lawless place.  Caine’s police officers were soldiers who were considered unfit for regular army duties.  The pay was low, conditions unhealthy and turnover rapid.  Caine recruited about 90 Europeans of whom only 47 were still in the force in 1845.  The Governor made several requests for experienced police officers to be sent out from Britain but officials in Whitehall decided it would be too expensive to recruit the whole force from England.  It was agreed that a Superintendent and two Inspectors would be sufficient and the Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police were consulted and chose three of their officers:  Inspector Charles May and Sergeants Thomas Smithers and Hugh McGregor. The three officers resigned from the Met. on 7th. October 1844 and set sail on the SS Oriental.  They arrived in Hong Kong on 15th. March 1845 and were duly advanced to the ranks of Superintendent and Inspector.

The climate in Hong Kong is hot and humid during the summer months and loose cotton clothing proves the most comfortable to wear.  However, this was the era of the British Empire and loose cotton clothing was not for the British.   Thomas as an inspector had to wear a thick blue dress coat the same as in England !!!  The story of Thomas’ time in Hong Kong – as an East End lad turned Pioneer –  is a story in itself but unfortunately far too long for this Blog.

This then was the start of the Hong Kong Constabulary.  Through the years it maintained strong links with the Metropolitan Police and forged even better links with other British constabularies.  After the riots in the 1960s the Hong Kong Police Force was honoured with the title of The Royal Hong Kong Police.  After the handover of Hong Kong in 1997 the title reverted to Hong Kong Police.

Many of the historical records of the Hong Kong Police were destroyed during the Japanese occupation.  This is regrettable but not disastrous for much information can still be found here in the UK.  If you would like to know what these sources are then why not reserve a place at the “My Ancestor Was a Policeman” Workshop to be held at the Society of Genealogists on Wednesday 3rd. November 2010.  Alternatively, if you would like your Hong Kong Police Research undertaken for you, then please use the “Contact Us” tab at the top of this page.

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Hong Kong Cemetery

Colonial Cemetery, Happy Valley

A tranquil spot in Happy Valley, Hong Kong is the resting place for many who travelled to the Far East from Europe in the 19th. Century.   The former British Colony was a thriving trading centre and home to merchants, military and members of the colonial service.  Members of the Royal Navy and merchant seamen all spent time on what was once termed ‘this barren rock’. 

In the early years the fledgling colony was stricken with outbreaks of typhoid, cholera and bubonic plague and these took their toll on the community.  The Old Protestant Burial Ground in Wanchai was soon full and ground for a new cemetery had to be found.  In the 1840s Happy Valley was on the outskirts of the growing city and was seen as an ideal spot.

From 1985 to 1995 I spent my weekends in the Hong Kong Cemetery transcribing and indexing those of the inscriptions that were still legible.  Some 12,000 people had been buried since the cemetery had opened and I did not like to think of them lying forgotten so far away from their homelands.  It was a tremendous undertaking that I had set myself but I ploughed on regardless.  In the height of the summer when snakes came out to bask in the sunshine beside the graves, or when typhoons raged and the resulting deluge threatened to wash away the graves, then I found other sources of information to supplement my index:  church records, obituaries, government gazettes.  Each source added additional information to the sometimes sparse and maybe illegible inscriptions. 

I left Hong Kong in the summer of 1995 having completed the last inscription in the last section just one week before. 

Genealogists searching for details of that elusive ancestor could well find that they are laid to rest in this far flung outpost.  Perhaps I have them in my database !!  Please use the “Contact Us” tab at the top of the page if you would like to contact me.

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